Nov. 15, 2007 — On Friday, Nov. 30, at 8 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium, the U.Va. Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of trumpeter John D'earth, will present the first of its three concerts for the 2007-2008 season.
The Fall Concert, showcasing a newly expanded trombone section and a roster of strong soloists, will feature some exciting new music, three classics and a nod to the holiday season.
The new music comes in the form of several pieces from the pen of veteran arranger and composer Rob Lussier. "Rob has some of the most swinging, tasteful new arrangements out there," D'earth said. "As leader of a large jazz band, I'm constantly looking for new music that is challenging and has something to say. Rob works with tunes that, as he puts it, 'haven't been arranged to death.' We love to play the classics. We play three in this concert. But it is wonderful to have new music that tells a story and allows our soloists to really express themselves, in the context of this rich, ensemble sound."
Two of the Lussier arrangements are ballads, "My One and Only Love" and "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," by Billy Strayhorn. These will feature tenor saxophonist John Petrucelli and baritone saxophonist Greg Weaver, respectively. Lee Morgan's "The Joker" will feature fourth-year trumpeter Dean de la Pena, who is D'earth's ad hoc assistant director, and tenorman David Kirk.
The Jazz Ensemble has attracted more strong soloists than ever before. "People are starting to hear about the overall level of music performance at U.Va.," D'earth said. "They realize that you can combine a rigorous liberal arts education with a strong commitment to musical and artistic development. We've had many strong soloists come along, but now we seem to always have between five and 10 people who really listen to the music and show up, devotedly, for all the practice and study that go into taking up the task of improvising in a meaningful way."
Three of the "charts" the band will present are venerated classics that feature complex interactions between soloist and ensemble. These are mini-concerti whose length, approximately three minutes, is dictated by the 78 rpm recordings that were the media for these masterpieces. "Jack the Bear," by Duke Ellington, features bassist Ryan Gilchrist in the role of Jimmy Blanton, who played on the original recording.
Another Ellington favorite, "Boy Meets Horn," which originally featured Rex Stewart, presents budding trumpet soloist Brandon Walsh. "Boy Meets Horn" is a musical short story about a (fairly gifted) young boy's first encounter with the trumpet. Within three minutes he goes from the blips and blaps of his first attempts, ingeniously represented by Stewart's innovative half-valving and growls, to soaring over the Ellington band.
Count Basie's "Every Tub" will feature pianist Chris Plietz, John Petrucelli playing Lester Young's famous solo and lead trumpeter Eric McQuillan wailing on the "shout" chorus.
Lead alto saxophonist Anthony Robertson will be featured on D'earth's "Merengue Loco," a dance piece that serves as one of the Jazz Ensemble's "theme songs." Robertson will also sing on D'earth's arrangement of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
"Tony is an excellent singer and a natural jazz vocalist," says D'earth. "Last year he transcribed for the band, and sang, Dizzy Gillespie's 'Land of Oo Bla Dee,' and he nailed it. I really want to develop his role, vocally as well as instrumentally."
As a further acknowledgement of the coming holidays, D'earth mentioned that there might be a visitation from Tchaikovsky via Duke Ellington: a little jazzulated ballet music ... "if everyone's good."
On Saturday, Feb. 23, the Jazz Ensemble will present featured guest and world-renowned saxophonist David Liebman (Miles Davis, Elvin Jones.)
Liebman will be the Jazz Ensemble's artist-in-residence for three days, Feb 21-23, giving master classes and leading workshops that will be free and open to the public.
On Friday, April 18, the Jazz Ensemble will present “Speaking in Tongues/Jazz and Words,” featuring original compositions, and readings by poets Margo Figgins and Matt Wyatt. The concert will premiere a new piece by John D'earth: a memorial setting of poetry by his brother, Paul Smyth, to be read by the composer.
Tickets: $10 for the general public, $5 for students, and 5 ARTS$ for U.Va. students.
Doors for the 8 p.m. concert will open at 7:30 p.m.